Travel Back into American’s History at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates
If you don’t spend a lot of time in the Fort Myers area, you might not even know the Wizard of Menlo Park, Thomas Edison, spent a large part of his life in our neck of the woods. The original snowbird, Thomas Edison came down to Fort Myers during the winter and spring from 1986 until his death in 1931. He relaxed and also used the property for his inventions and experiments. Later in 1915, Henry Ford bought the neighboring property so he could vacation next to his longtime mentor.
Edison’s widow, Mina, deeded the estate to Florida in 1947, which has allowed the winter homes of both American innovators to be carefully preserved. The Edison and Ford Winter Estates is open to the public at 2350 McGregor Blvd. Tours are offered seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Types of Tours
To gain access to the Edison and Ford estates, along with the museum and laboratory, you must purchase one type of tour. Tour options range from incredibly in-depth to a self-guided audio tour.
- The Complete Estates Tour: For $20, this is a self-guided tour where you have an audio device that activates at certain points. This one is good for people who really like to go at their own pace and wander around without a big group.
- The Historian Tour: For $25, you have an actual guide that will take you around the property and answer any questions. This will be a better option for groups and people with a healthy curiosity for these American icons.
- Behind the Scenes Tour: Only available Thursday morning at 11:00 a.m. and at a pricier $50, this is the best and most in-depth tour available. On other tours, you’re only able to look into most of the buildings, but you get truly behind the scenes access and go into every location. This is our personal favorite of the tours and highly recommended.
What You Can See
So what is there to do and see during your visit? Here are a few highlights.
Very likely you’ll start at the museum, but it may be better to stop by after your tour when you have free time. Here you’ll be able to explore hundreds of Edison’s inventions from light bulbs to motion picture cameras. You’ll be truly astounded by how many things he worked on during his lifetime.
One of Thomas Edison’s last major efforts was to find a US-based plant source for rubber. During WWI, Edison had become concerned that the United States could be cut off from rubber imported from the Pacific. Collaborating with Ford and Harvey Firestone, Edison built a lab, hired a team, and got to work. Edison tested 17,000 plants before finding one, Goldenrod, which met the requirements.
In order to test what plants could be used to manufacturer rubber, Edison had plants and trees flown in from around the world. Many plants, like bamboo, were used in other projects like light bulb filaments, and his wife also kept an extensive garden of roses and orchids. Today the gardens are still thriving and add an otherworldly level of beauty. Seeing all the color, as well as the massive Banyan tree, will make you forget you’re in Fort Myers. Separate tours of the gardens are available if you’d like to learn more about the unique Sausage Trees or any of the other plants.
The Edison Estate
Located up against the Caloosahatchee River, the sprawling Edison home is technically two dwellings. Built in a New England style and covered in Victorian furnishings, with a massive wraparound porch, Edison built the home in town parts so guests could have a separate dwelling to be more comfortable, and so he wouldn’t be disturbed. Reportedly, he also hated the smell of cooking and wanted his meals prepared in the adjacent building.
Nearby, you’ll also see the caretaker’s house and incredible swimming pool. Originally built in 1910, the pool also features a tea and bath house. At the time, it must have been the height of relaxation.
The Ford Estate
After visiting Florida several times, Henry Ford eventually decided to buy the neighboring property, called “The Mangoes.” Ford did not spend as much time, there, so it’s a smaller home that was used mainly for short vacations and parties. It’s much darker than the Edison home and more rustic.
Car fans, like those of us at Jaguar Fort Myers, will also delight at seeing several old Ford models that have been carefully maintained. You also wont’ want to miss Thomas Edison’s prototype Ford Model T, located in the museum. Ford gave Edison the car two years before the Model T was launched to the public. Edison liked it so much that he refused to upgrade, so Ford sent down a crew regularly to make sure Edison had the same level of performance as everyone else.